Negotiation in the digital age

commentary The police hostage negotiation unit commander cursed and wiped the sweat from his brow.This was the damndest case the commander, Mick Webber, had come up against in his 18 years in the elite group.

commentary The police hostage negotiation unit commander cursed and wiped the sweat from his brow.

This was the damndest case the commander, Mick Webber, had come up against in his 18 years in the elite group.

He was used to dealing with people who had reached the end of their tether and in a moment of madness -- generally fuelled by drugs and alcohol -- barricaded themselves in with a loved one or a stranger. His unit prided itself on its ability to resolve seemingly intractable situations with minimal harm to the hostage or hostage-taker.

But they had made no progress this time. The negotiators' cajoling, empathising ... even the threatening had had no effect. There had been no response whatsoever from the hostage-taker -- or the hostage, apart from the initial ransom note.

"What do we do, sir?" his trusted lieutenant, John Smith, asked. "It's bloody quiet in there".

"Dunno," Webber conceded grudgingly. Truth was, he was a bit dubious that his unit had even been called in on this case. The head of the police service had spoken at length the previous week about the need for the force to adapt to the digital age, but the unit commander and his men had viewed the comments as more designed to appease politicians than anything else.

Behind him, a soft weeping started. He turned and glanced at the kid slumped against the wall who was the closest relation to the abductee. "Relax son," Webber said gruffly, reaching a decision. Turning to Smith, he said. "We're going to have to play hardball. Tell them we're not paying and they've got five minutes to return the hostage".

As Smith relayed the message, the tension in the air increased. Webber felt himself breaking out in a cold sweat and exchanged nervous glances with his deputy. The vibes on this one weren't good.

After agonising minutes, a response came. Webber felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. "The hostage is gone. You have paid the price for not meeting our demands. Goodbye".

The commander turned to the teenager, who had turned pale. "Sorry son," he said. "Once those extortionists encrypted your data and dropped the ransom note, we knew we were dealing with professionals. There was always a good chance they would delete all your files".

Smith, who was closing the e-mail window and logging off, exchanged a quick glance with his superior. Hostage negotiation will never be the same again.

The characters in this article are fictional but do you think we will see an increased number of online blackmail cases in future? Write in to edit@zdnet.com.au and let us know.